Is It Writers Block When You Can’t Get Started Writing in the First Place?
Getting middle school students to write is a challenge, because frankly, most of them just don’t want to. And it doesn’t matter what the assignment is. I can say, write me a story, about anything you want (school appropriate) and they would still groan, and moan, and waste as much class time as they could get away with. I’ve been fighting this battle for thirteen years so far. Different grade levels, different classes, different schools, same reaction. Every time.
At the beginning of the school year I have them write a narrative to get back into the swing of writing, and to practice creating a plot with dialogue. This sounds somewhat easy, but believe me when I say I could spends months on just this one writing assignment. So many of the students lack the ability or willingness to actually use their imagination to create a true narrative.
I would say approximately 75% of my students turn in an essay type paper using the transition words first, next, then, and finally, essentially creating an informative text about some random event that happened in their lives. It’s disappointing.
I teach English to non-English speaking students. I consider myself lucky in that I usually get to have my students two years in a row, unless they test out of the EL program, so I really get the opportunity to learn their strengths and weaknesses.
One of my male students, now an 8th grader, struggles in all of his classes. He didn’t qualify for SpEd. services, but he does process information very slowly. He takes longer to read, to write, even to speak. He’s super sweet, and not a classroom distraction at all.
I try to provide him with as much support as I can in my class, as well as with IA’s in his content area classes. He’s a high level EL student, meaning his English is very close to that of a native English speaker, so language is not his primary struggle.
I was worried about his progress on the narrative story assignment. He seemed to spend much of the class time dedicated to writing daydreaming, but every time I asked how he was doing, he would answer, “Fine.” Just that one word ~ fine.
The day came to collect their finished products, and I settled in that night at home with my cup of coffee and red pen to to see how well this latest class of students could tell me a story.
There were a few decent narratives among the many informative texts, then there was my struggling student’s papers. I was shocked. Honestly, I grabbed my laptop and plugged in a few of his sentences just to see if I could find a match. There was nothing. Zip.
My little struggler had written me a two and a half page story about a young boy who discovers his friends are all super heroes. His exposition included how his friends approached him with their identities because they felt he could become one of them as well, and they needed his help.
His detail was incredible. I could see each of his characters develop though-out his mini-plot. I could visualize his settings, the costumes, the weapons, and the epic battle at the climax. His protagonist was a well developed round and dynamic character. It was a pure joy to read!
He had made his customary grammar mistakes, and the majority was written in simple sentence structures, leaving me no further doubts that this was his work, but his plot was complete, and he even included internal as well as external conflicts!
This student is going to struggle for the rest of his life. I have my fingers crossed that he will be able to graduate high-school. I fear that he will never fully understand the talent that I truly believes he has, therefore, he will never make it a priority in his life.
I didn’t make one red mark on his story. With his permission, I displayed it on my bulletin board. I look at that story every time I have to meet with him and his teachers over his failing grades. I agonize over his struggles, and I agonize over his natural talent that may never be allowed or encouraged to grow.
What do you think? Are great authors simply born with the ability to weave a fascinating story that captures readers effortlessly? Or do writers become great authors through courses, and classes, and failures, successes, great agents, and editors, and publishers?